Hans Moffett, Sean Powell, and Shayne Stokes, from Brigham City, Utah, were swim instructors and lifeguards at the community pool during the summer of 1990 when they met five-year-old Ashlee Wyatt. She was “different” from the other kids. One side of her face is disfigured from a birthmark called a strawberry hemangioma—a benign tumor that typically occurs as a purplish or reddish elevated area of skin.
Ashlee was very self-conscious, and some of the other children either shunned her or made fun of her. Consequently, she kept to herself much of the time when she and her brother and sisters would come to the pool for free-time swimming on those summer afternoons.
“We knew Ashlee was going to have a hard life because of her appearance,” comments Hans. “We felt bad for her and wanted to help her. We knew she wouldn’t take swimming lessons with other kids, so we talked to our supervisor and asked for permission to give Ashlee swim lessons after the pool was closed to the public.” Permission was granted. Then they talked to her mother, Darlene Wyatt, and she thought it was a great idea.
Every week for two months, Ashlee and her mom came to the pool in the early evening so Ashlee could learn to swim. The boys were totally dedicated. They would not let anything interfere with their lessons with Ashlee. And they would not take any pay.
However, even with private lessons, Ashlee was sometimes uncooperative and withdrawn at first. The boys nicknamed her “Stinker” because, to quote her mom, “She was one!” But with each lesson Ashlee gained more trust for her young instructors. And Hans, Sean, and Shayne became more attached to this shy little girl. At the end of the summer, the boys gave Ashlee a huge stuffed animal—a skunk. And guess what she named it? That’s right—Stinker. Her mom says that even now, months later, when Ashlee is feeling stressed or unhappy, she will carry Stinker around the house with her, and she cuddles her stuffed animal friend close to her when she goes to sleep.
The friendship between Ashlee and her young swim teachers did not end that summer. The boys kept in close contact with Ashlee and her family. Ashlee’s parents, Brent and Darlene Wyatt, have six other children. “All seven kids get hugs and lots of attention when the boys pay us a visit. They just let them crawl all over them,” says Ashlee’s mom. “They have spread their love throughout our family.”
And the close friendship goes on. Sean still lives in the area. “I just love Ashlee. She’s great!” he comments. He took a Christmas present to her on Christmas Eve this past year and visits her on a regular basis. “She really warmed up to us and came out of her shell once she learned to trust us,” he says.
Hans is on a mission in the Canada Vancouver Mission. And Shayne serves in the Austria Vienna Mission. Guess who their favorite pen pal is? All three boys agree that “Ashlee helped us more than we helped her.”
“Hans, Sean, and Shayne looked beyond the fact that Ashlee is different,” Ashlee’s mother comments. “Their acceptance of her as a person helped Ashlee gain confidence in herself. She is more willing now to try new things and meet new people. They have done so much for her sense of self-worth. I can’t say enough good about them.”
At the end of that summer of swimming lessons, Ashlee’s mom wrote a letter to the three swim teachers expressing her deep feelings of appreciation.
Dear Hans, Sean, and Shayne:
I would like you to know how much I appreciate all you have done for Ashlee this summer. You have helped build Ashlee’s confidence in herself, not only in her swimming skills but also in all areas of her life. Each week she would proudly tell everyone who would listen all about her swimming lessons. We have seen her become more willing to open up and talk to people she had always ignored before. People in our ward have noticed a gleam in Ashlee’s eyes that wasn’t always there.
For most of her life, we, as a family, have had to learn to deal with the negative response Ashlee gets from strangers. In a world where looks are so important to how people assess our worth, it is nice to know that there are individuals who can look past the physical.
I’m not sure why the three of you chose Ashlee as someone you wanted to spend some time with, but I will always be grateful for all you have done. You’ve made this summer more than a summer to remember; it’s one we will cherish.
Keep in touch!